Bill Russell, the man with the most winners in American sports history, died peacefully today at the age of 88, along with his wife Janine. Arrangements for his memorial service will be announced shortly.
Along the way, Bill earned a string of individual awards that stands unprecedented as it went unmentioned by him. In 2009, the award for the NBA Finals most valuable player was renamed after the two-time Hall of Famer as the ‘Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.’
Born in Louisiana in 1934, Russell was not initially considered a top basketball player. His first scholarship offer came from the University of San Francisco, which was largely unknown for his basketball prowess, but Russell made consecutive national championship appearances in 1955 and 1956. In addition to basketball, Russell was a star in San Francisco’s track and field, especially in the high jump. He won an Olympic gold medal in basketball in 1956 as captain of his USA team before turning pro.
But for all the winning, Bill’s understanding of the struggle is what illuminated his life. From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to unmask too-long-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the combustible wake of Medgar Evans’ assassination, to decades of activism ultimately recognized by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010. Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candor that he intended would disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example that, though never his humble intention, will forever inspire teamwork, selflessness and thoughtful change. Bill’s wife Janine and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill’s prayers. You may remember his signature laugh as he gleefully explained the true story behind . And I hope that Bill’s commitment to uncompromising, dignified, and always constructive principles will allow each of us to find new ways to act and speak. It will be the last and lasting victory for our beloved #6. ”
“It is with great sadness that I would like to share the following with all of Bill’s friends, fans and followers.
Bill’s two state championships in high school offered a glimmer of the incomparable run of pure team accomplishment to come: twice an NCAA champion; captain of a gold-medal-winning US Olympic team; 11 times an NBA champion; and at the helm for two NBA championships as the first Black head coach of any North American professional sports team.